Steps to Take If You Are Accused of Child Molestation
Here are some important steps to take if you've been falsely accused of this serious crime.
If you have children, or live, work or have contact with children, it is possible (though statically quite unlikely) that, at some point, you might be falsely accused of child molestation or other sexually inappropriate behavior with a child. False accusations can be intentionally false accusations by an adult or a child or allegations based in error – for instance, because a child misunderstands something an adult does or because an adult misunderstands a child’s description of an event. False accusations also can arise because another person misinterprets an adult’s relationship with a child or a teenager, or lies about the relationship.
False accusations can occur in divorce and custody cases, daycare and babysitting scenarios, in teacher-student or coaching relationships, in families, among friends and neighbors, and between strangers. A child might even accuse an adult he does not know and who has no interactions with children, simply because the adult looks like or reminds the child of the offender.
What to Do If You Are Accused of Child Molestation
Accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior with a child – whether by a child, a parent or other family member, or a third party – are a very serious matter. Such accusations often lead to criminal investigations and referral to a child welfare or protection agency, and can result in criminal charges against the person being accused, as well as loss of or suspension from employment. The initial response of the person accused can have a significant, permanent impact on this situation.
Avoid making any statements
If any person (someone you know personally or a law enforcement officer, investigator with a public agency, or your employer) questions you about or accuses you of inappropriate sexual behavior with a child, try not to answer any questions, make any statements, or engage in any conversation or discussion with the other person until you have consulted an attorney. You can tell the person that you cannot discuss the matter until a later time or until you have consulted with an attorney. Even making a statement of denial can be tricky in this situation if you have not obtained legal advice. If you try to say that you did not touch a child inappropriately, the other person may misinterpret your statement. You also may make a simple statement that seems innocuous, like admitting you talked to a child at a certain time or were alone with a child, only to have the statement used against you at a later time.
If you are questioned by your employer or a representative of your employer, such as your supervisor, an administrator, or someone from human resources, and you become concerned that you may be fired if you do not respond to the questions on the spot, you will have to use your own judgment and decide whether to proceed without consulting an attorney. This is understandably a very tricky situation, as your employer could turn your statements over to law enforcement or a child welfare department if you respond, but might try to fire you if you do not respond. The one precaution you can take is to contact an attorney as soon as you hear anything – even a rumor – that you are being accused of child molestation.
Consult with an attorney immediately
The moment that you learn of accusations that you have had inappropriate contact with a child – even if you hear only rumors – you should contact an attorney for information and advice on what to do. Remember, communication between an attorney and a client is protected by attorney-client privilege, which means that any private conversations with an attorney are confidential and cannot be shared with anyone else or used against you in a criminal proceeding. Besides advising you, an attorney can immediately begin communicating on your behalf with anyone trying to question or contact you about the accusation.
For example, perhaps you are a teacher and a parent has contacted you and questioned your behavior with his child, or accused you of sexual contact, and told you he intends to contact the school administration. An attorney can contact a school administrator before you are questioned, begin addressing the matter on your behalf, and you will never find yourself in the uncomfortable position of being questioned by a school principal or other administrator without having consulted with an attorney or without an attorney present.
Important Steps to Take
If you are falsely accused of molestation or other inappropriate sexual behavior with a child, you should also:
- gather and preserve any physical evidence in your possession that might relate to the alleged victim and your relationship with the victim (clothing, photos, videos, and objects)
- gather and preserve any documents or records that could relate to the accusations such as letters, emails, records that might show where you were at the time of an incident (if there are allegations of a specific incident and you believe you were not with the alleged victim or at the location at the time of the incident), phone and GPS records, and computer records, and
- make a list of possible witnesses – any person who you think has information about the accusations, the child, or your relationship with the child – and obtain the witnesses’ contact information.
You should be prepared to share all of this information and material with an attorney.
Concerns and Consequences
The most obvious and serious concern if you are charged with a crime based on false accusations of child molestation is that you could be convicted of the crime. A conviction for sexual contact with or sexual abuse of a minor has serious potential consequences. A defendant could be:
- sentenced to time in jail or prison, including a potential life sentence in some states
- placed on probation for an extended period, and
- required to register as a sex offender.
In addition to criminal consequences, a person convicted of a child sex crime could:
- lose employment
- lose professional licenses such as a license to practice law, medicine, social work, psychology or other professions
- lose custody of his children (even if the victim was not his child) and be permitted to have only supervised contact with children, and
- face a civil law suit for damages the victim has suffered.
Accusations alone, especially if the case draws media attention or other publicity, also can result in serious consequences outside an actual criminal prosecution proceeding.
What Your Lawyer Should Do
Because of the possible consequences, no one should face a child sex crime charge without being represented by an attorney.
In investigating child sex crime charges and preparing a defense, it is important to explore certain issues, including:
- whether the child is lying, has been aggressively coached on what to say, or misunderstands what happened
- whether the child intentionally or mistakenly identified the wrong person as the offender
- whether you have an alibi, such as proof of what you were doing or that you were at another location when the incident happened, and
- whether evidence establishes that the molestation did not occur or that the defendant is not the person who committed the crime (records of a medical examination of the child, fingerprints, DNA evidence, photographs, video or the other items listed above).
Preparation of a defense
An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will be aware of the possible defenses to a charge of child sexual molestation or abuse and the issues that need to be explored. An attorney can:
- advise you of all your legal rights as a criminal defendant
- advise you on whether to give information to the police or prosecutor and whether to agree to other possible law enforcement requests
- give you information about sex offender registration and how that may apply in your case, and
- represent you in the criminal proceedings and, if necessary, assist you in deciding whether to accept a plea offer or go to trial.
What You Should Not Do
If you are accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with a child, you should not:
- initiate conversation with the victim or the victim’s family, especially to convince them they are wrong
- have any contact with the victim
- talk to law enforcement or other investigators without an attorney present, or
- give any evidence to law enforcement or a child welfare or protection agency without consulting with a lawyer first – even if you believe the evidence will show you are being wrongly accused.